Considering his blue-chip racing pedigree, the fact that Ryan Arciero made the most poignant observation of all at the recently concluded NORRA Mexican 1000 rally wasn’t surprising.
Dressed in black Nomex with helmet at the ready, he stood in remote oasis of San Ignacio next to Baja’s trans-peninsula highway. Scanning the northern horizon, he strained to hear the staccato exhaust of old “Betsy,” the Toyota-powered Chenowth buggy he shared with father Frank “Butch” Arciero Jr. The famous No.3 Riviera Racing Trophy-Truck of Mark Post had just flashed by, and Ryan was chomping at the bit, ready to take the wheel for the day’s long 170-mile second stage to Loreto.
“You know, this, this right here is the real story of this race,” he shared with a grin. “Here we are doing battle for the overall victory in a car built in 1988. It has a junkyard Camry motor that puts out maybe 200 horsepower. That’s the beauty of this whole NORRA deal. Vintage can still rule.”
For the next 734 miles the Arcieros would engage in a historic battle with Post and his co-driving team of Ed Herbst and Jesse Jones, along with the modern-era entries of Baja 1000 veteran Larry Ragland, Mike Dario, Butch Jensen and King of the Hammers overlord Dave Cole – who was surprising everyone with the performance of his team’s Ultra4-style rock racer.
Arciero’s observation summed up the Mexican 1000’s captivation to its core. It’s a once-a-year event that embraces a huge variety of vintage off-road machinery with a blend of modern cars, truck, UTVs and bikes driven by desert-savvy racers and wide-eyed newbies. Depending on your skill or outlook, the NORRA experience can be an all-out competition or a well-organized adventure through the Baja.
The rally’s five-day format transforms the whole thing into a rolling band of gypsies, traveling to the next overnight stop that dot the peninsula. With the aid of new title sponsor Yokohama tire and lots of logistical support by NORRA’s tireless staff, these destinations have become outright parties on to themselves, with competitors enjoying cold drinks, hot food, music and the expected bench racing sessions.
That “Happiest Race on Earth” aspect of the race, however, didn’t take anything away from the challenge of competing for 1,369 miles over some of the roughest and most desolate ground anywhere. It’s tough, long and dangerous. There were several accidents involving racers and crewmembers, and, sadly, San Clemente, California desert racing veteran Jason “Jake” Batulis succumb to injuries sustained after crashing his motorcycle on the event’s final day.
The race may be considered one for the everyman, but, it may not be for every man (or women). Baja didn’t get it’s worldwide reputation for no reason.
Two hundred and thirty six entries took rally’s Ensenada green flag, with 141 of them overcoming the odds to cross the finish line in San Jose Del Cabo. A night later 1,800 racers, crews and families gathered on the sandy beach just south of town to eat, drink and gather up their well-earned hardware. Notable winners included Steve Hengeveld in the motorcycle divisions, Cole in the Evolution 4×4 class (who also took a remarkable fourth overall), PJ Jones, who took the Stock Turbo UTV category, and the Boyd Jaynes/Brian Godfrey tandem that piloted their Yokohama-backed Ford Bronco to a rally rally record sixth victory in the Pioneer category.
Perhaps the most surprising performance outside of Cole’s was the one-two finish from a duo of rally-style Porsches entered by Rothsport Racing. Armed upgrades from their 2017 debut, the 911 driven by Cameron Healy took the Vintage Stock Production Car category.
For the all-important overall victory, the Arciero/Post dual had continued toward a truly remarkable finish. On the road they were neck and neck until the rally’s final 25-mile stage, where Post was forced to pull over to fix a broken pulley bolt. That put Arciero’s Chenowth into the race’s physical lead, and the iconic white, yellow and red buggy came home to a tearful welcome enhanced by the memory of the late Bob Gordon, the car’s original owner (it is still owned by son Robby Gordon).
“It can’t get any sweeter. We know this car will find its way to the front. Outside of the fact we don’t run an all-out race engine, all of the pieces of this car are how they were. This means so much to my dad and I, especially since we got to race together. But this race is dedicated to Bob, we felt him with us the whole way,” explained Ryan.
Post’s equally iconic black No.3 Ford rolled in shortly afterward. Quick pit work and a lead in total elapsed time gave the popular restaurateur the rally’s overall victory by just over 35 minutes.
“Wow, this win was meant to be because we had just the right part in the right place at the right time,” Post shared with a laugh. “This truck was originally built by Robby Gordon in the mid-1990s, and it’s still a rocket. We have updated a bunch of components, but a lot of it is vintage. Imagine two old race cars battling for a win all these years later.”
Memories of the 2018 Mexican 1000 will only get better with the passage of time. From every perspective, it all was just like it’s supposed to be.
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